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TURKEY


 

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 237,972 182,848 147,700 21
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,790 2,500 2,530 92
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 130 - (28/03/08)

The Kurdish scare
The Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq has apparently turned out to be on a considerably lesser scale than initial reports had suggested and of shorter duration. Iraqi Kurdish officials and US-led coalition sources said only a few hundred Turkish troops at most took part in the cross-border operation, which lasted barely a week in late February. It was an eight-day operation in fact that ended on February 29, the leap day of the leap year.
The Iraqi Kurds - always on the look-out for any Turkish move that might be construed as an attempt against their own autonomous regions - said the incursion took place in a remote, rugged and unpopulated sector of the border, where heavy snows hamper movement at this time of the year. 

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who control the part of northern Iraq south of the Turkish border, had no contact with the Turkish troops and were only aware of the operation from monitoring military radio traffic. No vehicles or tanks were involved in the move across the border, although helicopter gunships were in action as well as jets and artillery. 

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari - himself a Kurd - described the operation as "very, very limited". But he added that the Turks had destroyed five bridges over the Blue River tributary - part of the Greater Zaab river complex - and said he had called in the Turkish charge d'affaires in Baghdad to deliver a protest note. 

Protective US umbrella 
The underlying situation in Iraqi Kurdistan and on the Turkish border is so sensitive and tense that any news of Turkish military action is often blown out of proportion. Turkish military statements are usually scant and elliptical, leaving the field open to speculation and interpretation and some TV footage has been known to be from archive material. 

But Ankara is well aware of Iraqi Kurdish sensibilities, and also that the United States is committed to maintaining the integrity both of Iraq as a whole, and of the federal autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, which has enjoyed a protective US umbrella since the early 1990s. 

Tensions were particularly high in October and November, when the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) carried out raids in which about 30 Turkish soldiers were killed. Turkey massed tens of thousands of troops on the border, a build-up which is still in place. The Iraqi Kurds feared that a major invasion was imminent, and that their own autonomy would be the real target. 

But the invasion did not materialise, with Washington playing a key role in persuading the Turks to hold off in exchange for co-operation in efforts to deal with the PKK with pin-point operations. Washington confirmed that it had been notified in advance of the latest Turkish move, and received assurances that it would be directed solely at positions or fighters of the PKK. They have hideouts in the rugged border mountains, from which they have conducted attacks across the border into Turkey. 

The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, also called his Iraqi counterpart, Jalal Talabani, to assure him that border operations would not be directed against the Iraqi Kurds. Mr Gul invited Mr Talabani, who is a Kurd, to pay an official visit to Ankara, an invitation which the Iraqi president accepted. 

But the launching of the Turkish operation was preceded by some friction on the ground between Turkish troops and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces. 

Fighting season 
There are two fixed Turkish bases inside northern Iraq, at Bamarni and Bakoufa, where a limited number of troops and tanks have been stationed since 1997 with a static monitoring and intelligence function. According to senior Iraqi Kurds, Turkish troops tried to move out of the bases to set up checkpoints on nearby main roads. 

They were confronted by Peshmerga fighters who took up combat positions. There was a tense stand-off before the Turkish forces returned to their bases without any shots being fired. The subsequent cross-border raid, so far at least, has fallen far short of the major incursion that had been feared before the winter weather ended the fighting season in late November. 

For thousands of troops to pour across the border, as initial reports suggested, they would have to use the only major crossing, at Habur, near Zakho in the far north-west of Iraq. 

The Iraqi Kurds say that did not happen. They control the southern end of the crossing, and would be the first to observe - and probably confront - a major Turkish advance. 

Operations elsewhere along the rugged, snow-bound border would necessarily be of a much more limited nature, until the spring thaws make the remote terrain somewhat more accessible. 

The headscarf issue
There are matters closer to home that are demanding urgent attention. Turkey's main opposition party said on February 27 it had asked the Constitutional Court to quash a government-backed reform aimed at easing a ban on women students wearing the Muslim headscarf at university. The wearing of Muslim face veils and headscarves in schools, universities and at work is a sensitive topic across Europe.

Mainly Muslim, but secular, Turkey has with different degrees of success, long banned Islamic head-dress in universities and public offices. But parliament on February 9 resoundingly approved constitutional changes aimed at lifting a ban on female students wearing the Muslim headscarf in universities. President Abdullah Gul approved the reform on February 22.

Face coverings such as the Afghan-style burqa or Middle Eastern-style niqab are relatively rare in secular Turkey, which traditionally follows a moderate brand of Sunni Islam and where segregation of the sexes is very much the exception, not the rule

The ruling AK Party urged state prosecutors on February 27 to investigate university rectors who have refused to implement new laws allowing female students to wear the Muslim headscarf on campus. Many rectors have refused to recognise the Islamist-rooted government's decision to ease a ban on students covering their heads on campus. They say further legislation is required.

The rectors, along with the rest of a secular elite that also includes judges and army generals, say the reform is part of a government effort to erode the separation of state and religion in Turkey. The government denies any Islamist agenda. 

The AK Party says the issue is one of religious freedom in Turkey, a European Union candidate country. It is unclear when the court will rule on the matter.

"As far as I can see, the rectors are committing a crime. This is a matter for the state prosecutors," the state Anatolian news agency quoted AK Party Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat as saying. "Depriving our daughters of the right to education because of their dress, is a violation of the constitution," he said.

The AK Party says the issue is one of religious freedom in Turkey, a European Union candidate country. Two thirds of Turkish women wear the headscarf and opinion polls show a majority of Turks back the relaxation of the ban at university.

Oil and gas exploration in the Aegean and Black Sea
Not all news is bad news. It is a welcome development that relations between Athens and Ankara have greatly improved in recent years. Earlier this year current Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made the first visit to Turkey by a Greek premier in nearly half a century. 

Turkey launched oil and gas exploration in February in the Gulf of Saros in the Aegean Sea, which it shares with Greece, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler has said. "We started drilling work in the Gulf of Saros in the Aegean and this is important for the works we have been carrying out recently. A good spot was detected," Guler told a news conference.

Turkey's state oil firm TPAO also announced it would start oil exploration with Brazil's Petrobras in the Black Sea in 2009, rather than 2011 as had been planned previously.
Turkey and Greece have a territorial dispute over parts of the Aegean and more than 20 years ago they almost went to war over oil exploration.

However, Athens has indicated that this time the Turkish work would not provoke a dispute. "The exploration is taking place completely in Turkish waters. As such there is no need for Greece to comment on the situation," said a Greek foreign ministry official who declined to be named.

Greece has a territorial limit of six miles around its 2,000 or so Aegean islands, but maintains it has the right to extend this to 12 miles. Turkey has said such an extension would be cause for war.

In March 1987, then Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou ordered warships to sink a Turkish exploration vessel if it went ahead with plans to enter Greek waters to conduct an oil survey.

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